I remember running down the road by my house one day in fall, the fields ripe with gold, red silos on the horizon and the smell of chaff, the sound of the combines whirring. And I heard God say, “I want you to tell the world what I’ve done for you.”
Later, as I sat in the living room at my laptop, the boys in bed, Trent folding laundry for me in the office while he played a computer game, I looked out the bay window. What qualified me to write this story? All I saw was a very tattered, frayed thread, broken and retied in a number of places. And yet, somehow it wrapped around the entire story.
It was the thread of redemption.
With inspirational memoirs, what qualifies you to tell your story is your experience of redemption. That is the story being told, the journey your readers want to take. And if we can whittle down our lives to reveal how God has brought redemption to us, readers will be inspired to believe it may happen to them.
Show the purpose behind the pain and you may bring hope to many lives.
So what creates a good foundation upon which to build? We see three main considerations: Location, consistency, and solidification.
Location means context for your story. Of course, you are still living it, but to see how “large” your story is, where this portion will begin and end, consider what is the contained, distinct journey of redemption you have seen come about. It may be bold or subtle, but it defines what you share. Find specific words and phrases like “coming to my own faith,” “finding comfort in true love,” or “receiving permission to feel, deal, and heal.”
Then, where did the shift occur? What places? Who did it involve? When did it happen? And what unrelated info can be trimmed? Someone said memoir is life with the boring parts removed, and that’s true: but it’s both an internal and external adventure. The timeline will need to be reduced to keep readers hooked and not tangled in too much detail. Think through what events, people, places and specific struggles challenged you and made you move from despair to hope? In essence, what did God do, where did he do it and who was there at the time?
The stories with the greatest significance involve not the greatest excitement but the greatest pain and change toward growth.
Every redemption story needs specific sub-themes mixed in to add substance for a smooth consistency. Sub-themes remain largely unmentioned (like forgiveness, acceptance, repentance) but can be shown by anything big or small—a move, a job relationship, a new pet—that lent particularity to your unique experience of redemption, how God revealed it to you.
Including some of the many small, seemingly-unrelated things that contributed to your growth also surprise and delight readers as they discover connections in their own lives that often slip by unnoticed. Just like a house’s foundation, these mini-stories mix in to make the main structure stronger and well-supported. Often, writers find these hidden in what’s marked “unhelpful material.” So look for unusual experiences that could add to the picture of redemption beyond suffering.
Once you’ve identified the sub-themes and mixed them in to form a firm foundation, it will likely still be too soft to build on. There’s always a waiting period before the full scope of your themes and stories solidify.
To build the scenes and fill them with the right discussions and information, you need the clearest reasoning to hold it all up.
Logically, emotionally, and spiritually, inspirational memoir is among the hardest things to write well, primarily because it involves thinking objectively and rationally about all those aspects of life. A disciplined approach will produce disciplined results and this is often a key missing ingredient. You need to wait for the light to shine and the wind to blow on your thoughts.
Let God’s natural process set the foundation as you consider it in your mind, praying and anticipating how it hold all you hope to convey. Waiting makes space for Him to come and it is crucial to developing an inspiring story. The work is slow. But vital life is happening under the surface. So step back and take in the big picture, then go away for a while when you are more objective.
We wait for Him because we need his perspective to fix our own.
What would he have you write? What is the fuller vision he might want to show you?
Inspirational memoir is not really about us but what our Creator is doing in us. Stay with Him and hear what He’s saying so you can deliver the full message to our readers.
This is, in short, the work of being a witness. As Frederick Buechner has said,
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…. It is precisely through these stories in all their particularity that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” (Telling Secrets)
Write your way out of spiritual poverty. See the events of your life as the beautiful wonder and the life-giving hope that they are.
It is for you first.